Bruce Lee often emphasized the importance of adapting to one's environment. He pointed out how water would become the cup when poured into a cup; it would become the bottle when poured into a bottle. "Be water, my friend" is one of his most famous quotes. It is a teaching straight from the Tao, which formed the basis of Lee's core beliefs.
This quote has also given rise to some questions, such as: "Derek, don't you think Bruce Lee's actions were inconsistent with his words? Water conforms to its environment, so if we are to be like water, then we should also conform to our environment. Back in Bruce Lee's days it was difficult for an Asian actor in America to find work, but through his persistent efforts he created a niche for himself and changed American cinema forever. Far from conforming to his environment, he had a big impact on it. How can you reconcile that with the Tao?"
This apparent paradox is what can pop up when we touch only the surface of a very deep spiritual philosophy. To find the answer, we need only to observe nature. Look at any river and notice how water has cut its own channel into solid ground. Look at any canyon and notice how water has carved out incredible structures out of mountains. It becomes obvious, then, that while water does indeed conform to its environment, that certainly isn't the only thing it does. Over time, the never-ending persistence of water creates astounding impacts on its environment. Isn't it interesting how water can do this, despite being the softest thing there is?
If we are to emulate water, we would embody not only its flexibility and adaptability, but also its transformational power. Bruce Lee worked within the movie industry in Hong Kong and Hollywood to make his mark upon the world. Applying his example to ourselves means we would also fit seamlessly into our chosen line of work, and then excel from within. We may not necessarily change the entire world, but it is an absolute certainty that we will be able to change our own personal world. We will then understand this Tao teaching in a whole new light....
Be water, my friend.